By SARA SHEPHERD
Photo credit goes to scout.com
It is the most unrivaled football camp in the nation. Football players grow up dreaming about becoming a member of the fraternity. Thousands compete for a spot, but only two dozen find themselves competing in the Elite 11.
Eleven out of the last 13 Heisman trophy winners have been Elite 11 quarterbacks. Ten out of the last 13 National Championship teams have been lead by Elite 11 quarterbacks. The last seven quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall were Elite 11 quarterbacks. Twenty-six out of 32 starters in the NFL are Elite 11 alums.
If you’re invited to this camp, you are not just any quarterback. You demonstrate characteristics every successful quarterback has. These characteristics cannot be described -- only demonstrated. It is called the “It Factor.”
Every spring, thousands of hopeful high school quarterbacks travel to compete in regional events in hopes of earning a coveted invitation to the Elite 11 finals.
The Elite 11, founded and supported by Nike, sends a group of knowledgeable scouts and coaches, including former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, across the nation to evaluate the top players in the area. They ignore rankings, number of offers and fame surrounding players and put them on a football field with a ball and plays.
The talented will shine throughout the various drills. Coaches assess each player’s performance -- knowledge of the game, execution of passes and overall athleticism. This method can give underrated players the chance to expose themselves and receive opportunities never presented to them.
As the staff often says, they are not looking for the 11 best quarterbacks; they are looking for the 11 best competitors.
After each regional, the coaches name an MVP and give a few promising quarterbacks an invitation to travel to Los Angeles to compete for a spot in The Opening.
This year, 24 of the nation’s top competitors made the journey to Los Angeles, California, for three days full of life lessons, physical challenges and football to prove they are the best.
“It’s the deepest group of passers we’ve had,” Dilfer said.
Going into the competition, coaches know this group of athletes is special on the field, but they are searching for the full package -- those who are physically, mentally and emotionally strong enough to handle being college quarterbacks.
It’s the deepest group of passers we’ve had.
On Friday, just after the players arrive, they gather into a room with one another. Each player finds his labeled seat and begins to look around. This is when things become real.
They see Tate Martell, the quarterback who received a scholarship in the eighth grade and plays for the top football team in the country. Their eyes scan more faces, and they land on Dylan McCaffrey, football royalty.
His father played professionally for 13 years, his eldest brother plays for the Oakland Raiders and his older brother – Christian -- broke the NCAA all-purpose yards record last season and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.
They’ve heard about these players, maybe even watched their highlights, but now they’re sitting in a room together, all competing for the same spot. This is when insecurity sets in and players start to doubt their abilities.
Coach Dilfer and his staff start the first meeting by revealing this year’s mission and remind players how they fit into it. The theme of this year’s competition is called ‘The It Factory.”
Each player in the room has exhibited something special that you just can’t put a finger on -- the way they grasp plays, read the field and execute. It cannot be described; it’s a complete different way of playing the game.
After this, the players get the chance to go and prove why they are at the camp. They are taken to a football stadium and receive a variety of plays they memorized from the playbook sent to them.
Following the meeting, the quarterbacks are taken to a football field. Now, they get to prove their abilities. This can either be living up to the noise surrounding them or demonstrating that a vast majority of schools overlooked their gift.
All eyes are on them -- the coaches, the other quarterbacks and the eyes of Dr. Michael Gervais, the world’s leader in high-performance psychology. Dr. Gervais is trusted to guide the Seattle Seahawks through mental challenges. He works with the Elite 11 to help players understand the importance and seriousness of the mental aspect of football.
At night, the players split up into meetings rooms for a variety of speakers. Coaches speak with the players about different topics, including how to be confident, how to properly tell their story and how to react in interviews.
Then, they file back into the original meeting room where they first met. A new activity introduced this year was the evaluation of social media. Members of the staff went though every social media profile the quarterbacks use.
They read every tweet and look at every Instagram picture, not just from last night or last week, but ones they posted two years ago.
“What did I post two years ago? I don’t know. I was really worried,” said Florida Gators commit Jake Allen.
Each quarterback receives a sheet of paper with his usernames, profile picture and various tweets from over the years. It analyzes what the vast majority of his tweets are about, whether it be life situations, retweeting articles written about themselves or their faith and motivation. Additionally, they advise players on things they can improve -- for example, being mindful of who you are following.
Next up is a special guest, founder of I AM THAT GIRL and ProtectHer, Alexis Jones. The theme of her speech is the “Power of the Jersey.”
What did I post two years ago? I don’t know. I was really worried.
She tells a story of a young girl who was with her mom when she was violently harassed by four strange men. The young girl takes a picture of the men and posts it, desperate to find out who it was that made her mom cry hysterically.
Within minutes, someone replies, informing her it was three starters for the Los Angeles Lakers. While passing out pieces of paper to the players she says, “So the crazy part of the story is that chick was me.”
Alexis Jones has a few of the players read out responses she received from posting her story. The players sit in disbelief at the disgusting threats made to her because she published her story. Threats varied from murdering her to raping every woman in her family.
“I almost cried right there in front of everyone,” Martell said. “I was sitting, holding it back the whole time.”
After letting the players wrestle with the story and the reality of the power each of them hold because of athletics, she closed by saying, “That’s the power of the jersey.”
To close off the night, each player sits with members of the staff, Elite 11 alum and first-overall draft pick Jared Goff for a combine-style interview.
The players answer a variety of questions, including questions about themselves, extremely personal questions and a few questions Jared Goff was asked during his interviews at the combine.
There were some deep questions. Sam Ehlinger was asked in detail to recall the death of his father. Myles Brennan was asked to talk about his experience of Hurricane Katrina, losing everything and having to rebuild his life.
Dr. Gervais informed Sean Clifford that after speaking with people at his high school, it came to light that he had a problem with stealing. This of course was not true, but questions like these put the quarterbacks in situations to test their reactions to false accusations.
The unanimous question asked to every quarterback was to pick a player, besides themselves, that they would most want to lead their football team. The name mentioned more than any other was Clemson commit, Hunter Johnson.
Going into the Elite 11, players know they will be pushed to their physical limits. Finally, on the morning of Day 2, they experience the anxiously awaited challenges.
In the morning, with fog still hanging low, the players met on the beach for their first workout. They had to run to the first lifeguard stand, do ten up-downs, then run to the second, do ten more up-downs and run all the way back.
It was physically challenging, and the players had to tap into their mental determination because the amount of fog prevented them from knowing how far away each lifeguard stand was.
“By the time you finished your first ten up-downs, you wanted to quit,” Connor Blumrick said.
Every competitor was physically beat and began to slow down. Only one player started at one speed and finished at the same speed: Dylan McCaffrey.
During the next competition, the challenge was to receive a play, run up an infamous sand dune, and when they reach the bottom, recite every element of the play.
In over a decade, Coach Yogi Roth has never seen someone make it all the way up running. Professional athletes, from Kobe Bryant to Tony Gonzalez, use it for training.
None of the players made it to the top running, but the only player who made it down and repeated the play properly was Dylan McCaffrey.
By the time you finished your first ten up-downs, you wanted to quit.
That night, various Elite 11 alums came back to tell their stories and guide the quarterbacks into the crazy journey they are entering. As the sun set and the chilly air reached the shore, players sat on the beach around a campfire and listened to testimonies from college football players, including DeShaun Watson.
University of Southern California quarterback, Max Browne, told one of the stories that hit home for many of the players. He had the fairytale high school career, but things changed in college.
It made the players realize that just because they are on top of the world right now, nothing about their future is guaranteed. High school success means nothing at the next level.
The highly-awaited 7v7 competition is on the final day of the camp. This is the final opportunity for players to show off their talent and prove they deserve a spot in The Opening.
They received a play from the coaches and were handed a ball. It was up to them to read the field, both offense and defense, and figure out when to throw a pass. Some were successful and some fell behind.
The two standouts from the 7v7 competition were Hawaii native and Alabama commit Tua Tagovailoa and Syracuse commit Tommy DeVito.
The Elite 11 values its name. However, this year, instead of sending the top 18 quarterbacks to Oregon to compete in The Opening, they would be sending 12 quarterbacks to compete for the Most Valuable Player title.
For the quarterbacks advancing to The Opening, an incredible journey awaits them. They will spend one week in football heaven. For many, this is the accomplishment of a lifelong dream.
However, the journey ahead is not easy. Los Angeles was a small taste of the challenges they will face in Oregon.
Here is this year’s Elite 11: Stanford commit Davis Mills, Clemson commit Hunter Johnson, Oklahoma commit Chris Robison, Michigan commit Dylan McCaffrey, uncommitted Jack Sears, Georgia commit Jake Fromm, Louisiana State University commit Myles Brennan, Texas commit Sam Ehlinger, Penn State commit Sean Clifford, Ohio State commit Tate Martell, Syracuse commit Tommy Devito and Alabama commit Tua Tagovailoa.